Born to a Jamaican father and a Japanese mother, maybe sprinter Aska Cambridge has a slight edge genetically over most other runners in Japan.
But that fact alone isn’t enough to make him an elite athlete. He needs to get physically stronger.
In the winter of 2014, Cambridge had the chance to train in Kingston, Jamaica, at Racers Track Club, home of the Caribbean nation’s top runners, including Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. The opportunity made him realize how vulnerable he was as an athlete.
From that point on, Cambridge made up his mind to develop a bigger, stronger body through physical training.
“I could barely keep up (with the athletes at Racers) lifting weights at the beginning,” Cambridge, 23, told The Japan Times in Tokyo of his training in Jamaica. “Then I realized I needed more power and started working on it after I came back to Japan.”
Cambridge, then a student-athlete for Nihon University, didn’t have any knowledge of strength and conditioning. But then he met Yusuke Omae, a performance coach at Dome Athlete House (DAH), a professional-level training facility run by sports equipment and supplement company Dome Corporation.
“And I started to come (to the facility),” said Cambridge, who became an employee at Dome in April.
Takashi Ishimori, another performance coach at DAH, said that because of Cambridge’s genetic makeup, strength and conditioning should work even better for him than for others. He added that Japan’s top 200-meter sprinter, Shota Iizuka, also trains at the training facility but that Cambridge has developed quicker with the same amount of training.
Omae said that the DAH team looks closely at former world record-holder Asafa Powell as a reference for Cambridge because the Jamaican’s running mechanics are similar and may provide hints going forward.
“In terms of how he (Cambridge) pulls up his legs and the angles and how he kicks off the ground, it’s not Bolt or (Justin) Gatlin, it’s Powell that’s the closest,” said Omae, adding that it’s been only a few years since strength and conditioning began to be recognized in Japanese track circles.
With the development of his body (and not just through strength and conditioning but also through proper recovery and nutrition skills), Cambridge, who has gained 5 kg in weight and dropped his body fat by 2 percent to 4 percent since committing to strength and conditioning, has already seen an improvement in his results on the track.
He clocked 10.10 seconds in the 100 meters, Japan’s ninth-fastest time ever, beating the Olympic qualification mark, in a sweeping victory at the east Japan corporate championship in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, last month.
The 180-cm Cambridge claimed that he could run under 10 seconds in the 100 in the foreseeable future, a feat which hasn’t been achieved by any Japanese (Koji Ito holds the national record of 10.00).
“I would like to run under 10 seconds and earn a spot for Rio,” said Cambridge, who will go up against Japan’s other top runners, such as Yoshihide Kiryu and Ryota Yamagata, at the June 24-26 national championship in Nagoya, which will serve as the Olympic trials. As many as three sprinters can represent Team Japan in the discipline for the Rio Games.
Meanwhile, to be an elite athlete like Powell, Cambridge will require steady development with a long-term commitment to his training both on and off the track.
Omae said that DAH has a blueprint to make Cambridge a top sprinter around the time of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“We’re not exactly sure if he’ll reach that level for the Tokyo Olympics or a little later than that,” Omae said. “But we’d eventually like him to win a medal (at a global championship). Our approach for that to happen will be important.”
Cambridge said that his motivation has gone up since he ran the achieved the aforementioned 10.10 mark.
“I hope to be able to compete on a par with the world’s top runners, both in the 100 and 200, in the future,” said Cambridge, who helped Japan earn a bronze medal in the men’s 4×100 relay at the 2012 IAAF World Junior Championships in Spain.
Ishimori said that another thing Cambridge needs to do is to constantly compete with the world’s top athletes.
“If he continues to do that, I think he’ll eventually come up with an outcome that the (Japanese) public expects him to have,” he said.